The premise of the Cock Tavern’s latest show Secrets is intriguing. A devised semi-autobiographical
piece directed by Danielle Coleman (who has past experience in the genre), it
weaves together some real-life secrets of its eight cast members into a story
of deceit, miscommunication and shame.
From clandestine affairs and domestic abuse to the internal
politics of a family at war, the result is a tangled web of human weaknesses.
The problem? It’s a web with a lot of holes.
Described as explosive in its publicity material, too often the show’s
attempted pyrotechnics fall flat. Some scenes are ramped up to the melodramatic
max; others disappointingly underdeveloped.
And at the centre of the narrative is Andrew Cleaver’s psychologist, a man
so unsympathetic as to make one question how he acquired a licence to practise.
The cast do generate some moments of genuine discomfort. The
increasingly sadistic nature of Helen’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend is
made all the more shocking by the knowledge that this really happened to actress Helen Briscoe. Shireen Walton demonstrates both comic timing and pathos in her separate strands of the narrative.
And the strongest storyline, concerning a playground bully-turned-teacher whose
former victim joins the staff of her current school, allows Ishbel Nicol room
for some mature characterisation.
The overall feel, however, is of a school project gone
wrong, an impression not helped by the set design: a collaged backdrop unevenly
plastered with buzzwords and newspaper cuttings. The Cock is an exciting addition
to London’s tavern theatre scene. Sadly, Secrets, for all its ambition,
is not the show to make its name.